Cory Hill was thrilled to lead 14-man Cardiff Blues to victory over Zebre and has pinpointed their composure as the difference in Italy.
The Wales second-row captained the Blues for the first time, following his summer return to the club, and was part of an impressive forward display.
It was a performance full or grit and determination, composure and control, particularly in the second-half, which saw Josh Turnbull red carded on 43 minutes.
Hill said: “It was difficult. We came here prepped for them, we knew they were going to play a lot and they must have had a pretty long pre-season because they chucked the ball about pretty well. The first 20 was pretty quick but our defence stayed on top and we kept them try-less, that set us up for the rest of the game.
“You have to come away from home with a certain game plan. That was about playing no rugby in our own half, exiting well and then trying to put them under pressure and making them force things. We did that pretty well and Rich (Hodges) will be happy with our defence. We wanted to play high up the pitch, chase them and make them make mistakes playing out from deep.
“After the red card it was just about keeping everyone composed. You can always get a bit excited and try to chase things but it’s about holding off, not burying heads in rucks, keeping numbers on their feet and staying composed and trying to put pressure on them. The boys’ effort was fantastic in the second half and we deserved the victory.”
Hill’s leadership and experience was clear to be seen at Stadio Lanfranchi and combined with a resurgent Seb Davies and the athletic line out ability of Turnbull, Shane Lewis-Hughes and James Botham, the hosts endured a torrid night at the set-piece.
Cardiff Blues won all but one of their lineouts, pinched six from the Italians and put on so much pressure that another went astray.
The stand in skipper was delighted with that forward effort and was particularly pleased with Lewis-Hughes and Botham, who continue to receive widespread plaudits.
He said: “It was certainly a good day at the office in the lineout. We had a couple of weeks to prepare and it helped us that there was a bit of wind out there which put a bit more pressure on the front. That kept them limited compared to the number of drives they usually have.
On the youngsters he continued: “It’s great. You see the effort they put in during the week, the hours they put in and it’s no coincidence that they turn up on the weekend.
“They work just as hard, probably harder, than anyone else . Shane is out there for hours and hours practising whether it is breakdown, defence, attack and works his soaks off and Jim is the same. It’s nice to see those boys coming through and playing good rugby.”
Next up in the Guinness PRO14 is the visit of Connacht to Rodney Parade. Hill hopes to see a more expansive game at the Blues home away from home and after securing a hard-fought victory in Italy he is eyeing a double.
He added: “We would probably like to play a bit more. Richie Rees will be able to do his attack review in five minutes.
“It wasn’t a game for the neutral but at the end of the day we went down to 14 men and we stuck to our tactics and played the right game.
“Going away from home in Italy is never easy, it’s a tough place to play and you see a number of teams come out here and struggle. It’s great to get off to a winning start but we have to back that up next week at home.”